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Ree’s "Don’t Sweat it" easy meal ideas for the heart of produce season

The sun-drenched days of August are upon us, and it calls for a very distinct food strategy.

On one hand, this is the absolute heart of produce season, and our mind-body-spirit is pulling toward the fresh foods that define the summer. Do you remember just a few months ago when your compass was pointed toward the comfort of hearty stews, soups and pasta dishes? Who was that person? Why were they so full all the time?

Right now, we want flavor, color, zest and spice. We want fireworks on our palate, brightness on our tongue and excitement around every corner. On the other hand, it’s hot (especially this year). It’s sweaty and lazy. It’s hazy (especially this year)! Slaving in front of hot cooking appliances – looking at you, oven – is not an attractive proposition.

Everyone’s on the deck with palomas? While you’re wiping beads of sweat off your forehead? Hearing the kids splashing happily in the pool? While you’re opening the freezer just for a moment of relief? ... That’s a “thanks but no thanks” kind of proposition.

Jeca Energy Bars fearless leader, Ree Dolnick, does a lot of thinking about those parallel dynamics. How do you get delicious food with a breezy prep time? How do you honor the flavor ideals of the season without a slog in the kitchen? How do you get more than you give?

We hope you’ll scroll to the bottom of the page for our carefully curated list of delicious, interesting dishes for the dog days of summer – each of which can be made in less than 30 minutes. These are ripped from the pages of Ree’s personal cookbook, and they come via many years of trial and error. They can be companion dishes for your favorite grilled protein or serve as the main course.

But first, allow us a few caveats…


Building your pantry

If you want to spin up fast meals, you’ve got to be prepared. And it starts with the non-perishable food items that are there when you need them. Like good friends. Let’s start with some obvious suggestions – virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce. No surprise there, right?

Next, some other staples. We suggest keeping canned beans on hand (black, kidney, garbanzo, to start) and canned tomatoes. 

Now, we highly recommend you invest in sesame seeds, unsalted roasted nuts and bulgar. Layer in some spring roll wrappers and Thai rice noodles. And don’t forget the tahini! Looking for more brainstorming on essential pantry ingredients? The internet’s got you covered!

Have on hand

Whether we’re at the farmer’s market, grocery store or our garden, we’re stocking our kitchen this time of year with seasonal veggies like onions, garlic, carrots, peppers, zucchini, squash, eggplant and mushrooms. Don’t forget ripe tomatoes for slicing! Other helpful produce includes fresh bean sprouts, lemon and limes and corn.

Some additional suggestions for food to have on hand include:

  • When it comes to fresh herbs, we’re partial to starting with basal, mint, parsley and cilantro.
  • Consider buying fresh mozzarella and hard cheeses such as parmesan and Romano.
  • Grill up a large batch of vegetables and refrigerate them to use throughout the week.
  • And finally, keep around crusty European style breads (which you can store in the freezer), flat breads and your favorite crackers.

How to pick the best and freshest vegetables

Our favorite “no sweat” summer dishes!

Drum roll please…we’re finally to the fun part. Here’s a working list of our favorite great-tasting, healthy and interesting dishes that can be made in less than 30 minutes during the “dog days” of summer.

  • Caprese sandwich with balsamic/olive oil emulsion
    • Roadmap: Buy a loaf of your favorite crusty European bread. Slice tomatoes (heirloom or beefsteak varieties work well) and fresh mozzarella into thick slices. Add fresh basil leaves or spring mix. Drizzle a balsamic vinegar/olive oil emulsion and salt lightly.
    • Jeca tip: Pair with Kalamata olives (or really any kind of olive that you love).
  • Baba ghanoush
    • Roadmap: In a blender, combine roasted eggplant (flesh), tahini, roasted or fresh garlic, a few tablespoons of lemon juice, a few tablespoons of virgin olive oil and salt to taste. When serving, garnish with smoked paprika, olive oil and freshly chopped parsley. Serve with Greek bread, naan or flatbread crackers.
      • Quick note: This recipe works best with grilled eggplant. To do so, slice an eggplant in half, apply a small amount of olive oil and salt, and grill flat side down until soft. Let it cool down before scraping out and discarding the skin.
    • Jeca tip: Pair with tabbouleh.
  • Bruschetta
    • Topping: Cut tomatoes into small pieces and drain (remember to remove the seeds before cutting into small pieces). Chopped sweet onion. Chop fresh basil. Mince garlic (a small amount of goes a long way so taste before adding more). Combine ingredients, add freshly grated hard cheese, balsamic vinegar, virgin olive oil and salt to taste.
    • Jeca tip: Pair with rye toast crackers if you don’t want to prepare the bread.
  • Roasted veggie wrap with tahini sauce (or yogurt sauce)
    • Toss roasted veggies (onions, sweet peppers and zucchini work well together) with tahini sauce (tahini, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt) or yogurt sauce (yogurt, fresh lemon juice, fresh minced garlic, salt) and salt to taste. Roll with your favorite wrap and serve.
      • Like the baba ghanoush, this one requires prep work in the form of roasted vegetables. We love the flavor from a slight char off the grill but cooking them in the oven works as well.
      • Tahini sauce: Combine tahini with fresh lime juice, olive oil, minced garlic and salt to taste. Transfer to a jar and store in the fridge
      • Yogurt sauce: combine plain yogurt (Greek style yogurt works well) with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt to taste.
    • Jeca tip: Don’t forget to prepare extra sauce for dipping!
  • Tabbouleh
    • Soak wheat bulgur in water until softened and then drain. Cut a fresh tomato into small pieces. Chop a sweet onion into small pieces. Combine tomatoes, onions, and herbs, then add live oil, a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, minced garlic (to taste), salt and toss. Add wheat bulgur, toss, and adjust salt to taste.
    • Jeca tip: This works great as a side or a standalone dish.
  • Sesame noodles
    • Soak Thai rice noodles in warm water until softened; slice your favorite roasted vegetables such as onions, sweet peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms. Combine Asian-tahini sauce (should be thick but still runny). Toss noodles (optional: your favorite protein), veggies and sauce.
      • For the Asian sauce, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, tahini, honey, ground garlic powder, ground ginger and ground cayenne pepper (suggestion: one tablespoon of each soy sauce, sesame oil, and tahini, one teaspoon of honey. Adjust to taste. Add a half teaspoon of spices. Consider fresh garlic or ginger. If making larger amount, leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge to be used later for other meal preps such as marinades or to brush on your favorite proteins when grilling).
    • Jeca tip: When serving, add fresh bean sprouts, julienned scallions, and sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds.


    – Enjoy! 

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